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The American Expeditionary Forces or AEF was the United States Armed Forces sent to Europe in World War I. During the United States campaigns in World War I the AEF fought in France along side British and French allied forces in the last year of the war, against Imperialmarker German forces. The AEF helped the Frenchmarker Army on the Western Front during the Aisne Offensive ( at Château-Thierrymarker and Belleau Wood ) in June 1918, and fought its major actions in the Saint-Mihielmarker and Meuse-Argonne Offensives in late 1918.


U.S. President Woodrow Wilson initially planned to give command of the AEF to General Frederick Funston, but after Funston's sudden death, Wilson appointed Major General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing in May 1917; Pershing remained in command for the entire war. Pershing insisted that American soldiers should be well-trained before going to Europe. As a result, few troops arrived before 1918. In addition, Pershing insisted that the American force would not be used merely to fill gaps in the French and Britishmarker armies, and he resisted European efforts to have U.S. troops deployed as individual replacements in decimated Allied units. This attitude was not always well received by the Allied leaders who distrusted the potential of an army whose previous fighting experience was acquired in "colonial" type expeditions (Philippines, Mexico, Cuba). Eventually the American Buffalo Soldiers of the 93rd Infantry Division (United States) and at least one regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division (United States), less those soldiers from that regiment used for manual labor (See: African-american section below), were the first Americans to fight in France, albeit detached from the AEF and under French command. The 93rd with part of the 92nd would continue to fight under French command for the duration of the war.

By June 1917, 14,000 U.S. soldiers had already arrived in France, and by May 1918 over one million U.S. troops were stationed in France, half of them being on the front lines. Since the transport ships needed to bring American troops to Europe were scarce at the beginning, the army pressed into service cruise ships, seized German ships, and borrowed Allied ships to transport American soldiers from New Yorkmarker, New Jerseymarker, and Newport Newsmarker, Virginiamarker. The mobilization effort taxed the American military to the limit and required new organizational strategies and command structures to transport great numbers of troops and supplies quickly and efficiently. The French harbors of Bordeauxmarker, La Pallicemarker, Saint Nazairemarker and Brestmarker became the entry points into the French railway system which brought the US forces and their supplies to the front. American engineers in France built 82 new ship berths, nearly 1000 miles of additional standard-gauge tracks and 100,000 miles of telephone and telegraph lines.

The first American troops, who were often called "Doughboys," first landed in Europe in June 1917. However the AEF did not participate at the front until late October 1917, when the 1st Infantry Division, one of the best-trained divisions of the AEF, entered the trenches near Nancymarker.

Pershing wanted an American force that could operate independently of the other Allies, but his vision could not be realized until adequately trained troops with sufficient supplies reached Europe. Pershing established facilities in France to train new arrivals for combat. The AEF had landed in France in 1917 without field artillery or automatic weapons and had to turn to the French to complete its equipment. Particularly appreciated were the French canon de 75, the canon de 155 C modele 1917 Schneider and the canon de 155mm GPF. All three were eventually manufactured in the USA, beginning in mid 1918. American aviation units received the SPAD XIII and Nieuport 28 fighters and the US tank corps used the French Renault FT17 light tanks. The FT17 was also built under licence in the USA beginning late in 1918.

Following the U.S. First Infantry Division, three additional U.S. Divisions, including the 42th Infantry Division with its 69th Infantry Regiment, entered the battlefields in March 1918. The rest followed at an accelerating pace during the spring and summer of 1918. At the beginning, during early 1918, the few battle-ready U.S. divisions were deployed with French and British units to defend relatively quiet sectors of their lines. After the first AEF victory on the 28th of May 1918 at the Battle of Cantigny, by the 1st U.S. Division, Pershing worked towards the deployment of a US field Army.

US Army and Marine Corps troops played a key role in helping stop the German thrust towards Paris, during the Second Battle of the Marne in June 1918 (at Chateau-Thierrymarker and Belleau Wood). The first major and distinctly American offensive was the reduction of the Saint Mihiel salient in September 1918. During the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, beginning September 12, 1918, Pershing commanded the American First Army, comprising seven division and more than 500,000 men, in the largest offensive operation ever undertaken by United States armed forces to date. This successful offensive was followed by the Meuse-Argonne offensive, lasting from September 26 to November 11, 1918, during which general Pershing commanded more than one million American and French combatants. In these two military operations, Allied forces recovered more than two hundred square miles (520 km²) of French territory from the German army. By the time the Armistice had suspended all combat on November 11, 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces had evolved into a modern, combat-tested army. Many future US military leaders, such as George Patton and Douglas MacArthur, were veterans of the AEF.


A United States Army field hospital in France, 1918.

The AEF sustained about 320,000 casualties; 53,402 battle deaths, 63,114 non combat deaths and 204,000 wounded. This high AEF casualty count was sustained at a time when French casualties for 1918 are listed as 330,000, but with a much longer front line to hold.

Prior to the AEF's arrival in France, French and British casualty rates had also been very high during the Battle of Verdunmarker and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. However, by the time the AEF entered the front lines in early 1918, improved combined-arms tactics had significantly reduced French and British casualty counts. The pneumonia/influenza pandemic during the fall of 1918 took the lives of more than 25,000 men from the AEF while another 360,000 became gravely ill. Other diseases were relatively well controlled through compulsory vaccination. Typhoid fever was also practically eliminated.


African-Americans were drafted on the same basis as whites and made up 13% of the draftees. By the end of the war, over 350,000 African-Americans had served in AEF units on the Western Front. However, they were assigned to segregated units commanded by white officers. One fifth of the black soldiers sent to France saw combat, compared to two-thirds of the whites. "The mass of the colored drafted men cannot be used for combatant troops," said a General Staff report in 1918, and it recommended that "these colored drafted men be organized in reserve labor battalions." They handled unskilled labor tasks as stevedores in the Atlantic ports and common laborers at the camps and in the Services of the Rear in France. The French, whose front-line troops were resisting combat duties to the point of mutiny, requested and received control of several regiments of black combat troops.Kennedy reports:
"Units of the black 92nd Division particularly suffered from poor preparation and the breakdown in command control. As the only black combat division, the 92nd entered the line with unique liabilities. It had been deliberately dispersed throughout several camps during its stateside training; some of its artillery units were summoned to France before they had completed their courses of instruction, and were never fully equipped until after the Armistice; nearly all its senior white officers scorned the men under their command and repeatedly asked to be transferred; the black enlisted men were frequently diverted from their already attenuated training opportunities in France in the summer of 1918 and put to work as stevedores and common laborers."

One of the most distinguished units was the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, which fought under French command for the duration of the war, although it remained an American unit with American uniforms. The 369th was on the front lines for six months, longer than any other African-American regiment in the war. One hundred seventy-one members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Merit.[39908]. One member of the 369th, Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre,[39909] and has been considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor.

See also



  • Ayres, Leonard P, The War with Germany: A Statistical Summary Government Printing Office, 1919 full text online
  • Arthur E. Barbeau and Florette Henri, The Unknown Soldiers: Black American Troops in World War I (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1974),
  • Beaver, Daniel R. Newton D. Baker and the American War Effort, 1917-1919 (1966)
  • Chambers, John W., II. To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America (1987)
  • Coffman, Edward M. The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (1998), the standard history
  • James J. Cooke; The Rainbow Division in the Great War, 1917-1919 Praeger Publishers, (1994)
  • Dalessandro, Robert J., & Knapp, Michael G., "Organization and Insignia of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1923" (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2008) The best single volume on AEF unit organization.
  • Dalessandro, Robert J. & Gerald Torrence, "Willing Patriots: Men of Color in the First World War" (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2009)
  • Faulstich, Edith. M. "The Siberian Sojourn" Yonkers, N.Y. (1972-1977)
  • Robert H. Ferrell; Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division University of Missouri Press, (2004)
  • Frank Freidel, Over There (1964), well illustrated
  • Mark E. Grotelueschen; Doctrine under Trial: American Artillery Employment in World War I Greenwood Press, 2001
  • Hallas, James H. Doughboy War: The American Expeditionary Force in World War I (2000)
  • Heller Charles E. Chemical Warfare in World War I. The American Experience, 1917-1918. Fort Leavenworth, Kan.: Combat Studies Institute, 1984.
  • Holley, I. B. Ideas and Weapons: Exploitation of the Aerial Weapon by the United States During World War I(1983)
  • Howarth, Stephen. To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775-1991 (1991)
  • Hurley, Alfred F. Billy Mitchell, Crusader for Air Power (1975)
  • James, D. Clayton. The Years of MacArthur, I, 1880-1941. (1970)
  • Herbert A. Johnson; Wingless Eagle: U.S. Army Aviation through World War I University of North Carolina Press, (2001)
  • Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1982)
  • Koistinen, Paul. Mobilizing for Modern War: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1865-1919 (2004)
  • John Joseph Pershing, My Experiences in the World War (1922)
  • Donald Smythe. Pershing: General of the Armies (1986)
  • Trask, David F. The United States in the Supreme War Council: American War Aims and Inter-Allied Strategy, 1917-1918 (1961)
  • Frank E. Vandiver. Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing (1977)
  • Venzon, Anne ed. The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (1995)
  • Wilson Dale E. Treat 'Em Rough: The Birth of American Armor, 1917-1920 Presidio Press, 1989.
  • Susan Zeiger; In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers with the American Expeditionary Force, 1917-1919 Cornell University Press, 1999

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